Four days in San Francisco is definitely not enough. In fact, any amount of days in San Francisco is not enough. It’s one of the few places in the world where I’ve truly felt that I could one day put down roots in. Maybe it’s the magic of the Golden Gate Bridge that rises out of the fog each morning. Or maybe it’s the picturesque Victorian houses that look so elegant and colourful along the streets. Perhaps it’s the vibrancy of the Mission District’s painted murals.
Whatever it is, San Francisco has charm in spades.
I’ve put together a suggested four day itinerary in the Golden State which will definitely give a taste for the beauty and culture of this city, as well as getting in some unmissable tourist attractions.
Morning – Mission District
Vibrant murals, local treats and laneways decked out in so much colour you’ll need sunglasses. You can easily wander the Mission murals alone, but I would recommend checking out the lovely folks at Urban Adventures who run an all-inclusive Flavours and Murals of the Mission walking tour. I actually wrote a whole big blog post about how much I loved their tour. Read my post on the Urban Adventures blog here.
The oldest area in San Francisco is still definitely the coolest.
Afternoon/Evening – Castro District
A long and hard fought history of LGBTQI rights movements are celebrated in the form of rainbow crosswalks and naughty, kitschy shops. Harvey Milk made this area famous when he became the first openly gay elected official in California prior to his assassination in 1978. Wander the streets, duck into a few stores and definitely pop back in to see a double feature at the iconic Castro Theatre later in the evening. If you’re feeling really cheeky, you can even pick up a chocolate penis with whipped cream from Hot Cookie next door to eat during the movie.
Morning – Alcatraz
One of the most fascinating and infamous places in San Francisco is waiting, just a few minutes away from the shore. Alcatraz is one of the most popular attractions in the world with an award winning audio tour and picturesque views looking back to the city or to the Golden Gate Bridge. The island itself is creepily beautiful. It’s hard to shake the knowledge of what went on here and the men who were incarcerated, but on the other hand, the scenery is just so gorgeous on a clear day that I can’t help thinking those prisoners can’t have had it that bad with view like these.
My favourite part of Alcatraz is actually the decrepit buildings overgrown with vines – I’m a sucker for a dilapidated building.
Afternoon – Pier 39 – Sea Lions & Clam Chowder
Want to see a huge gathering of noisy, smelly (but hilarious) seals? Pier 39 is famous for the local residents who spend months lounging on the pier. Their antics are hilarious, as they shove each other around and bark as they do it. They only took over the dock in 1990, but there are so many now that boat owners have surrendered the area to the sea lions.
Grab a famous clam chowder bowl and sit down on the benches as you eat it to enjoy the madness.
Later – Coit Tower
Be prepared to walk up a big old hill with lots of steps to get to the top of Coit Tower, but I promise you that the view is worth it. Down the bottom, as you line up, check out the murals that snake around the base. After a rickety old lift trip to the top, the open air viewing platform of the Coit Tower has second to none 360 degree views of the city. The Coit Tower is immediately recognisable from just about anywhere in the city.
Night – Chinatown
Fancy some late night Chinese? San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of the largest and most impressive Chinatowns I’ve visited. Walk through the gates of Chinatown, browse the shops and markets and settle in to grab some cheep and cheerful Chinese.
I’m a fiend for dumplings. Seems like a win-win to me!
Morning – Golden Gate Bridge
Take a bus out to the Golden Gate Park to get the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Once you’ve taken your snaps, it’s time to take a walk over the bridge – but be warned – it takes a while to get across. If you’re not feeling up to walking, hire a bike and pedal your way across to take the in views from the other side.
Afternoon – Sausalito
If you’re really game, you can continue the walk across the bridge and walk all the way to Sausalito. If you got tired, like me, then walk the bridge and have an Uber pick you up from the bridge viewing area on the other side and drive you to Sausalito. Grab lunch, enjoy the picturesque boating town and take in some beautiful views of San Francisco from Yee Tok Chee park.
Morning – Cable Car
Take the Cable Car first thing in the morning to avoid the huge lines. You can ride one way ($7 US) or return ($14 US), and you definitely want to be standing outside hanging onto the cable car for the best fun. Enjoy the sharp turns and steep hills, but make sure you hold on tight!
Morning – Lombard Street
Wander to the top of the steepest street in the world, Lombard Street. As well as being super steep, it’s also incredibly pretty with flowers and Victorian houses dotted all the way down the street. Wander your way down slowly, marvelling at the cars doing hairpin turns to get down the street.
Afternoon – Moraga Steps
A little out of the way of the main town, the Moraga Steps are a set of steep stairs covered in mosaics that lead the way up to a fantastic vantage point of a different side of San Francisco. It’s a decent walk from the bus station and there are a lot of stairs to climb but you have an excuse to take it slowly as you marvel at the beautiful art that lines each step.
So there you have it.
Four days in San Francisco.
Four days in one of the most magical cities in the world.
Spend them wisely and have fun.